Scenic Spirit's shore excursion offerings are excellent, with lots of choices and opportunities to explore, often both in the morning and afternoon. All shore excursions are included in the cruise fare, and include driver tips for any of the forms of transport used. (A Mekong River cruise features rides in tuk tuks, ox carts and bicycle rickshaws; you might still wish to bring a few dollars as drivers sometimes ask for a tip even though they've already been paid.)
Shore visits in Vietnam are always by small boats called sampans, which ferry passengers between the boat, which remains moored in the river, and land. In Cambodia, the boat will pull up to shore but often the dock is simply a muddy hillside into which makeshift stairs have been built. In all cases, none of the ports on Scenic Spirit's itinerary are wheelchair accessible.
Tours are a mix of only one option divided into three groups or three free choice excursions, from which you can choose one that most appeals to you. For instance, in Tan Chau, Vietnam passengers could choose from a visit to a bird sanctuary, a tour that combined a visit to a traditional fish farm with a stop at an ethnic Cham village or a tour that visited Evergreen Island, followed by a xe loi (bicycle rickshaw) ride through Tan Chau. In Phnom Penh, which is an overnight stop on itineraries that go from Vietnam to Cambodia and a two-night stop on sailings that go from Cambodia to Vietnam, you'll have one day of free choice tours and a second day where the only option is to visit the Royal Palace and National Museum.
On tours where there is just one choice, passengers are divided into three groups, always by the type of itinerary passengers are booked on. (Scenic Spirit carries people who are on a variety of Scenic trips, with some booked on longer land/cruise tours, others on short land/cruise tours and other passengers just taking the cruise.)
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
Scenic Spirit does a good job of providing daytime activities for when the boat is sailing between stops. Options might include a galley or bridge and engine room tour, Asian cooking or krama scarf demonstration and tropical fruit tasting.
Evening entertainment occurs either before or after dinner, so that those who prefer to go to bed directly after dinner don't always miss out on the entertainment.
For instance, on the last or first day in Vietnam (depending on which port your cruise began in), a troupe of young performers showcase their talents in an array of lion dances, and in Kampong Cham, Cambodia (on either the first or last day of the cruise), a local NGO organization that provides basic training services to poor Cambodian children offers a performance of traditional Khmer music and dance. Both events are held before dinner, while two Cambodian acts that sing popular Western songs go on after dinner. Other after-dinner offerings include the once-per-cruise outdoor cinema (on our cruise the "movie" was a showing of "Top Gear UK Goes to Vietnam") and trivia night.
On other nights, passengers are welcomed in the Spirit Lounge with recorded music; one section of the lounge is cleared of tables and chairs and dancing is encouraged. The demographics of each sailing often determine how lively the lounge gets, the more boomers onboard, the more active the after-dinner scene can be -- though if there are more passengers from Canada and the United States, they often tend to go to bed earlier because of the extreme time difference. Our sailing was most active on nights an activity was being offered; the night the three-piece Cambodian band Unity performed, the dance floor was packed.
Most of the cultural enrichment you'll get with your Scenic Spirit experience takes place off the boat as your guides provide most of the history and context as you tour Vietnam and Cambodia. Guides are Vietnamese in Vietnam and Cambodian in Cambodia (though most of the Vietnamese guides will stay with you in Cambodia as well), with expert knowledge of their respective countries. On our sailing, the cruise director, an Australian who lives in Cambodia year-round, also gave an enlightening talk about the country starting with the period immediately before the Khmer Rouge and ending with the country's current status.
Other onboard enrichment activities include a class on some 101 uses for the krama (the traditional Cambodian scarf no Cambodian leaves home without), an Asian cooking class and two performances from local folkloric dance troupes, one from Vietnam and one from Cambodia.
Scenic Spirit has two standard bars -- one a bar/lounge combo and the second a small pool bar, which is pretty much only manned when people are in the pool. A third wet bar is located near the middle of the sun deck and is only open when there is an event being held outside.
Spirit Lounge (Deck 3, aft): The main indoor hangout spot on Scenic Spirit is the Spirit Lounge on Deck 3, though it is used infrequently during the day unless the daily schedule includes a talk or demo of some sort. The simple, yet refined space is decorated in dark golden wooden flooring, black cabinetry and latticework and wide floor-to-ceiling plate-glass windows, which let in loads of natural light.
The Lounge is divided into two parts. The front section features seating in several configurations from sofas and armchairs to three- and four-person round tables with chairs, most in neutral colors of browns, tans and grays. There are several tables with chairs in the back section, but unlike in the front where all are black glass tables with black leather chairs, in the back you'll also find wooden tables with wicker chairs and black tables with brown and black leather chairs.
The bulk of the back end of the lounge is taken up by the bar, which has three bar seats at the back end, but few people actually sit there; it's really more of a spot to place your order, after which your drink will be delivered to wherever you're sitting.
At the front of the lounge is one of the ship's most popular amenities, a high-tech coffee maker that can churn out espressos, cappuccinos, latte macchiatos and more. Hot tea is available on the other side of the entrance to the lounge. Both stations are open 24/7 and if you're not inclined to leave your room to grab a hot beverage, you can ring your butler to do it for you.
With just two exceptions, the daily evening briefing is held in the Spirit Lounge, as are any daytime enrichment talks or demonstrations. After dinner you'll find recorded music playing -- the first people into the lounge get to request what type of music they'd like to hear. Occasionally, Scenic will bring local musicians onboard who will either perform in the Scenic Lounge or on the sun deck if weather permits. Once per cruise, there's also a fiercely competitive trivia session held in the lounge after dinner.
Pool Bar (Deck 4, aft): A small poolside bar with about five bar stools serves up standards to sunbathers and those in the pool, including wine, beer and cocktails. If the bartender doesn't have the ingredients for what you want, he'll order your drink of choice from the Spirit Lounge and have it brought over. The pool bar is typically only manned in the afternoon when people are likely to be there; there are no set hours.
Scenic Spirit has both a sun deck (Deck 5) and a resort-style pool at the back of Deck 4. The pool area is prettily designed with light wooden decking and green foliage, which contrast nicely with the bright white of Spirit's exterior. Here you'll find several black rattan chairs and love seats, a handful of traditional loungers and one two-person daybed for relaxing in the sun. When the sun gets too strong, a retractable awning can be pulled out to provide shade.
Up one level at the top of the boat is the sun deck. Here you'll find a variety of seating including traditional loungers and padded bench seating set amid bright green artificial turf, a ship-long black walking track (16 times around is just under 1 mile) and real palms growing in planters. Near the middle is a small, round garden with decorative greens, a kitchen herb garden (with thyme, basil, mint and aloe vera) and kumquats, which were given to the captain as a gift. At the front is the outdoor theater with grayish armchairs and black folding chairs placed under an awning. The theater is used once a cruise as an outdoor cinema, as well as for some of the guest entertainers, including the two cultural performances.
Scenic Spirit's reception desk and small shop are located on Deck 2 (Jewel Deck). The reception desk is manned 24 hours a day and is where you call if you need to request something from your butler or want to order room service. Also on Deck 2 is the ship's library, a lovely sunlit spot at the front of the ship with a small selection of books, magazines and a handful of board games.
An elevator provides service to all decks except the sun deck. A DIY laundry room on Deck 1 (Gem Deck) is available pretty much all day long. There are three washers and dryers, and laundry detergent is provided, as is an iron and ironing board. The machines get pretty busy on the last two days of the cruise so time your washes accordingly. Laundry service is also available for a fee. (Passengers in the two Royal Panorama Suites get their washing done for free.)
Wi-Fi is included in your cruise fare, but can be spotty with most passengers reporting they got the best service during the night. We found it was always good enough to read or send emails, as well as upload photos to Facebook and Instagram but when we tried to do Wi-Fi calling our connection was never very good.
There's also a small "shop" (basically just two display cases and several items hung on the walls) near the reception desk. Items for sale are divided into two categories: Scenic-branded items (shirts, bathrobes, pens, etc.) and handcrafted items (dresses, soaps, silk scarves and bags; and jewelry made from recycled bomb shells) from a Cambodian NGO with which Scenic has partnered.
You'll find both a small spa and fitness center onboard Scenic Spirit, on Deck 1 (Gem Deck). The spa features one treatment room offering Vietnamese and Cambodian-style massages, a small salon for hairstyling (haircuts are only available when the boat is docked in Phnom Penh) and manicures and pedicures, plus a steam room and a sauna. Prices are much less than what you find on European river cruises with a 60-minute Khmer massage (be prepared for the massage therapist to get up on the table with you!) or relaxing Vietnamese essential oil body treatment costing just $50 (90 minutes is $75). A 60-minute foot reflex treatment is $55 and a 45-minute neck, head and shoulder treatment is $40. Also on offer are a 45-minute facial for $40, and 45-minute manicure or pedicure for $19 each. The most expensive spa package is the spirit rejuvenation, which costs $95, and is a two-hour treatment that includes massage, body scrub and facial.
The tiny fitness center has three pieces of TechnoGym equipment: an elliptical, treadmill and recumbent bike. There's also a multifunctional cable resistance machine for strength training, as well as yoga mats and stability balls.
There are no facilities for children onboard Scenic Spirit, nor is the crew prepared to provide any family-friendly services, activities or food should any children come onboard. The line has no minimum age, but according to the cruise director, they've never had anyone under the age of 18 onboard since Scenic Spirit began sailing in January 2016.